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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: Congo Drilling, Keystone XL Hearing, Japan Energy Review

The government of Democratic Republic of Congo has drafted a bill that could allow oil companies to drill inside its national parks. Soco International and Total hold exploration licenses that overlap with parts of the park where drilling activities are currently restricted by law. The draft bill would allow the government to provide an exemption to the ban for reasons of national interest. It would also provide tax breaks for operators to try to attract investors into the country, Reuters said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said that he intends to hold a hearing on the State Department’s role in the review of the Keystone XL proposal. The comment comes a week after the release of a State Department draft environmental report that found the pipeline is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in Alberta’s oil sands, The Hill said.

As Japan approaches the second anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, its pro-nuclear prime minister Shinzo Abe, elected in December, is reviewing the previous administration’s plan to exit nuclear power and boost renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind. Abe wants to restart off-line reactors that are certified safe under standards now being drafted by a new Nuclear Regulatory Agency. All but two of Japan’s 50 reactors remain switched off after the disaster and no more are expected to be restarted until after July, Reuters said.

The city of Beijing will this year unveil a maximum 120,000 yuan ($19,296) subsidy for electric cars, according to the Xinhua state news agency. Under the plan, owners of electric vehicles will also get preferential treatment in the city’s license plate lottery – which last month awarded plates to just in 1 in 77 applicants, the agency said.

Hovnanian Enterprises and PulteGroup have agreed to pay civil penalties of $130,000 and $56,000 respectively in separate settlements with the EPA, resolving alleged Clean Water Act violations at construction sites in Maryland and Virginia. The agency alleges that the companies failed to follow required best management practices to prevent the discharge of sediment to surface waters.

Wyoming Ethanol in Torrington, Wyoming, will pay $49,000 in penalties to settle claims related to the facility’s risk management program and chemical reporting requirements for its storage of flammable or highly toxic chemicals. Wyoming Ethanol failed to accurately file Toxic Chemical Release Inventory forms for chemicals processed, manufactured, or used at its facility, the agency said.

Montgomery Chemicals and the EPA have reached a settlement in a Clean Air Act case involving a Conshohocken, Pa., chemical plant. The facility produces a hazardous air pollutant – methanol – during its manufacturing of sodium borohydride. In addition to a $36,000 penalty, the company will also be installing a new scrubber to control emissions, the agency said.

The EPA and four Yakima Valley, Wash., dairies – Cow Palace, George DeRuyter & Son, Liberty Dairy, and D&A Dairy – have reached agreements to reduce nitrate in local groundwater. Among the provisions of the agreements, the dairies will provide alternate drinking water sources for neighbors within a one mile radius whose wells have levels of nitrate above the EPA’s drinking water standard, and take steps to control nitrogen sources, such as manure and commercial fertilizer, the agency said.

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